Moki Dugway and Muley Point: between vertiginous roads and immense panoramas

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Martí Micolau
@martímicolau
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wikipedia.org, lonelyplanet.com

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When you see pictures of winding roads, which wind their way up among mountains, rocks and precipices, can't you wait to jump in the car to drive them regardless of vertigo? Well then you absolutely must include the Moki Dugway in your itinerary on the road in the American southwest.

A breathtaking view and a pinch of danger make this road one of the most intriguing to travel in southern Utah, to get out of the most classic routes and bring home the memory of a little adventure. But that's not all! A stone's throw from this dizzying road is Muley Point, an exceptional vantage point on an immense valley, which stretches to the border with Arizona.



Index

  • What is the Moki Dugway?
  • Muley Point
  • Points of interest in the surrounding area
  • How to include Moki Dugway and Muley Point in an on the road itinerary?
    • From Moab to Monument Valley: Moki Dugway downhill 
    • From Monument Valley to Moab: Moki Dugway in words 
  • Map of points of interest
  • Where to sleep before or after riding the Moki Dugway?

What is the Moki Dugway?

We are talking about one of the most amazing roads that you can travel in the American South West. Made in 1958, it was intended to connect mine "Happy Jack Mine" with Mexican Hat, for the transport of uranium, copper and other minerals. Today this almost long dirt road 5 kilometers - part of the UT-261 - proves to be an exciting route for those who choose to lengthen their itinerary by driving from the top to the base (or vice versa) of the mighty Cedar Mesa.


Moki – o Mokee – is an adaptation from the Spanish Moqui, a word used by the Spanish colonists of the 1700s to describe the Anasazi natives. With Dugway instead it indicates that type of winding road carved into the ridge of a hill, in this case the Cedar Mesa. And it is precisely its position that makes Moki so fascinating. The difference in height of about 365m, conquered along hairpin bends that exceed a 10% gradient, means that at every bend the view opens up more and more over the valley below.


Moki Dugway sign
One of the tight hairpin bends
View from the Moki Dugway
Valley of the Gods dalla Moki Dugway

The panorama offered to the intrepid who venture down this road, especially on clear days, also reaches some quite distant wonders. You have one perfect view of the Valley of the Gods below, but the eye can go as far as the edge of Monument Valley. You can even spot Sleeping Ute Mountain in Colorado and Shiprock in New Mexico.

In short, although the altitude of Cedar Mesa is not extreme, we cannot say that we will return home disappointed by what we can admire from its summit. On some hairpin bends open spaces allow you to pull over to better enjoy the panorama and take some photos, as well as on the top of the plateau.


With the best weather (especially in summer) it is possible to take the Moki Dugway with any car (4 × 4 is not a must), but given the slope it is highly not recommended to venture there driving a camper.

Be careful though: during the winter the snow can cause the road to be closed, and even if it were open it is still risky to drive on this steep dirt road due to possible ice. Avoid it even in rainy weather: mud would make the journey dangerous, but completely impractical if you don't have a 4 × 4. In general, however, the characteristics of the road always impose a certainty driving caution.

Muley Point

As I mentioned in the previous paragraph, the Cedar Mesa is located in one ideal position to extend the view over the valley below and beyond. But as you can imagine, not the entire perimeter of the plateau can be easily reached by car. If already driving on the Moki Dugway you cannot complain about the view, to be really satisfied I suggest you extend the journey by a few minutes to reach Muley Point.


This viewpoint overlooks on the San Juan River, the same one that not far away creates the suggestive loops known as Goosenecks. From the edge of the ravine, at the top of Cedar Mesa, the horizon extends over the valley to the edge of Monument Valley. The combination of the two viewpoints (Moki Dugway and Muley Point) allows you to have a complete view of the area below.


If in the case of the winding road with hairpin bends you can best admire the Valley of the Gods from above, because it rises on the eastern side of the mesa, Muley Point is an overlook overlooking the southern front of the plateau and which therefore allows you to look up to Arizona.

Visuale da Muley Point East
Visuale da Muley Point East

To get to Muley Point it takes a quarter of an hour of driving from the top of Moki Dugway and about 40 minutes from the UT-261 entrance along UT-95. But in truth, the panoramic points are two. Following Muley Point Road - a dirt road that branches off from UT-261 not far from the beginning of the Moki Dugway - you will first arrive at Muley Point East, a beautiful overlook from which you begin to glimpse the magnificent series of twisted bends of the San Juan River.

Going back into the car and driving a few more minutes, you will arrive at the end of the finger of rock that extends from the mesa: the real Muley Point. Here the view is even wider and literally leaves you speechless (the photos unfortunately do not do it justice).

Few other viewpoints of this geographical area, at least among those easily reachable by car, allow you to have such a broad view, straddling three states. And in addition to what you can admire beyond the edge of the ravine, the very edge of the plateau on which you are standing is impressive. It seems in fact crumble under your feet (don't worry, it's just an impression!) because of the gigantic blocks of stone, with cubic shapes so perfect as to seem cut by man's hand, ready to fall over the precipice.


San Juan River Canyon
View from Muley Point

Note: during the winter the snow can make the road impassable. Therefore: if you go here in the summer you can arrive without problems even with a normal car, while in case of snow you will need a 4 × 4 or it will be completely impossible to reach the viewpoint.

Points of interest in the surrounding area

The Moki Dugway and Muley Point are two attractions to combine, being so close and well connected. But there is much more to see in the area. Unless you are on a tight schedule, if you go here you should also include a ride through the Valley of the Gods. The younger sister of Monument Valley, in fact, can be visited by car quite quickly and above all for free. Sure, the grandeur of the Monument cannot be matched, but you won't be disappointed by the imposing rocks of this desert valley for this.

The top of Cedar Mesa makes it clearly visible sinuosity of the San Juan River, the tributary of the Colorado that competes with the latter for the beauty of the bends deeply carved into the rock over the centuries. The best place to enjoy this view is undoubtedly the Goosenecks State Park. It won't be easy to get all the curves of the river into a photo, but they will certainly remain etched in your memory.

A stop at the town of Bluff, for two reasons. First you can stop for something to eat at Twin Rocks Cafè, next to the interesting twin rocks that give it its name. Also here you can visit the museum dedicated to San Juan Expedition: the Mormon expedition that started the Hole in the Rock Road.

How to include Moki Dugway and Muley Point in an on the road itinerary?

Both of the attractions we talk about in this article can be well integrated into an on the road itinerary: even in one of those classic itineraries, the stages of which are exclusively or almost the most visited by tourism. Let's see two alternatives below, bearing in mind that the chosen direction implies some differences.

Da Moab in Monument Valley: Moki Dugway downhill 

Are you returning from a visit to Arches Park, Canyonlands and other beauties that can be accessed from the city of Moab? If your itinerary involves moving south from here, headed to Monument Valley, in the Grand Canyon and in the State of Arizona in general, my advice is the following.

The line drawn on the most classic maps is the one that follows the UT-191 up to Bluff and then the UT-163 towards Monument Valley. Following this classic route, you would skip the Moki Dugway, taking about 2 hours and 40 minutes from Moab to Monument Valley. An extra half hour of driving is enough to take the UT-261 and then add the intriguing winding road to your itinerary.

My suggestion is not to spend the last night before in Moab, but to get closer to it by a few kilometers by staying overnight in Monticello. This way in the morning you can drive south, turn right on 95 after Blanding, take 261 and reach Muley Point fairly early. From here, go down the Moki and then turn left into the Valley of the Gods, until you get back to the UT-163 and head towards Mexican Hat and Monument Valley stopping at Goosenecks.

From Monument Valley to Moab: Moki Dugway in words 

Have you left Monument Valley behind and are planning to go to Moab and the surrounding parks? My suggestion is to stay overnight in Mexican Hat from where, in just 10 minutes, you can reach the Goosenecks State Park in the early morning, when it is still difficult to find other tourists.

From here it takes another 10 minutes of driving towards Bluff to find on the left the access to the Valley of the Gods, which you can cross in the opposite direction to that mentioned in the previous paragraph, thus arriving at take the Moki Dugway from below. Driving uphill on this road means that at each bend the view widens more and more, with a crescendo of emotion.

Again, the detour to Muley Point is a must, before heading towards UT-191 and, therefore, Moab, which can be the next city to stay overnight.

Map of points of interest

Here is a map containing the Moki Dugway, Muley Point and all the other points of interest mentioned in the article.

Where to sleep before or after riding the Moki Dugway?

Depending on how you are planning your itinerary, you may need to find accommodation near one of the two ends of the Moki Dugway and, in general, of the UT-261. Very close to the south, you can look for accommodation in Mexican Hat. On the north side, however, you could opt for a hotel in Monticello. However, since it is likely that you will pass through here grinding more kilometers during the day, perhaps moving between Monument Valley and Moab (starting city for visiting the Arches and Canyonlands parks), I suggest you take a look at our tips below.

Our tips on where to sleep in Monument Valley

Our tips on where to sleep in Moab

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